I love watching my kids play. Sure, I could do without all the hitting, biting, and fighting over the same toy, but the things they do together when they are getting along are usually pretty creative. In the past I have shared stories about my little boys pretending to hand out food to the needy, and pretending to lead VBS, they really like being a part of the mission work we do. Just a few days ago I over-heard them playing that they were going to build a new house for someone who had nowhere to live. It’s those moments, that I am so grateful for the opportunity that God has given us, not only help those in need, but also for our children to see first-hand the importance of showing God’s love to a country that has so many who hurting, and in need of a Savior.
Sadly, there are also times that I find my kids playing things that I wish they didn’t know about at 2 and 3 years old. A couple of weeks ago I found my older son with his arms behind his back, and my younger one was tying a bandana around his wrists. I asked them what this game was, and I was told that the younger one was “being the bad guy, who ties up people”. I was confused, so I asked some more questions, and was told, “you know the bad guys who have the really big guns, and their trucks have red and blue lights”. A cop? I was shocked that he thought those were the “bad guys”! When I asked why he thought they were bad, he said because he always “sees the other guys trying to move and get away, and the police take them and put their hands like that even though they don’t like it”. I tried to explain that the police were the good guys, and the other guys did some thing wrong, which is why they have to put their hands like that. I think it finally clicked for them when I said that grown-ups don’t have naughty chairs, when they do something bad, they have to go with the police. After our talk I asked where they saw the police taking the guys like that, and my 3-year-old said “on the show Papi watched after dinner”. The news.
Generally, we do not watch the news until after the boys are in bed. There are too many graphic pictures of dead bodies laying in the street, or videos of “bad guys” being taken to jail. It’s not really something I want my kids to see or be aware of at their young ages.
A few weeks ago I heard a few things on the news that really stuck with me, mostly because they bothered me so much.
One was that there are roughly 20,000 young people between the ages of 15-24 in gangs in El Salvador. In a country that is only about the size of Massachusetts, that is a large amount of youth. No wonder why we are constantly seeing pictures of gang members being taken by the police, and the bloody bodies of their victims. It’s a huge problem in this country, and the reason why our homicide rate per capita is among the highest in the world.
I also heard another pretty shocking statistic. In the poorest communities of El Salvador, 1 in 5 girls will have a baby by the time she is 15. We have seen this first-hand in some of the areas where we work. There have been times that we have handed young girls a toy, only to have them turn around and say, “no, I need food for my family”. It’s shocking to me to think of these girls who are so young being mothers, but it happens very often here. In fact, 30% of all babies are born to girls between the ages 10-18. TEN YEARS OLD and a mother! Just think about that!
Facts like these are the reason why so many of the activities that Hope and a Future Missions offers are geared toward kids. Programs like soccer camp and VBS are usually filled with kids between the ages of 2-14, but the majority of the kids are usually about 9-13 years old. This is such a critical age for these kids, because based on the statistics, by 15 years old many of them will find themselves becoming parents, or a member of a gang. I truly believe that is why God has placed it on our hearts to reach out to these kids, and show them that there are better options for their future. To teach them that they can be a part of God’s family, instead of the MS-13 family. That Jesus loves them even when it feels like no one else does, and that He cares for each one of them.
My kids may see things on TV that I wish they didn’t, but for many of these kids, they face things like violence and gangs on a daily basis. It’s not just something they saw on the news, it’s their families on the news and in those situations. It is our prayer that we might be able to bring hope to these kids and their families. We pray that we will be able to teach them about Christ, and show them the love of Jesus in all that we do in their communities. Even if one life is changed, and one heart is opened to Christ, it is well worth it.